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Google can't save newspapers either, ends Print Ads program

January 20, 2009 |  2:49 pm

Newspaper boxes It seemed like a goodwill gesture: Google, the company that many newspapers grumble about when lamenting their troubles making money online, said in November 2006 that it was determined to figure out a better way to sell print ads.

The Internet giant started selling ads on behalf of newspapers to the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that advertise through its search engine. The Print Ads program let those advertisers go online to buy remnant ad space in print. "We open the medium to a whole new class of advertisers," Tom Phillips, then the director of Print Ads, told the Washington Post in December 2006. The program started with 50 newspapers and expanded to more than 800.

But Google said today that it was "turning the page" on Print Ads. In other words, the program didn't really work, so it's shutting down Feb. 28. Spencer Spinnell, the current director of Print Ads, said in a blog post today that the program had not created the revenue stream that ...

... Google or its newspaper partners had wanted. He said:

We believe fair and accurate journalism and timely news are critical ingredients to a healthy democracy. We remain dedicated to working with publishers to develop new ways for them to earn money, distribute and aggregate content and attract new readers online.

...

These important efforts won't stop. We will continue to devote a team of people to look at how we can help newspaper companies. It is clear that the current Print Ads product is not the right solution, so we are freeing up those resources to try to come up with new and innovative online solutions that will have a meaningful impact for users, advertisers and publishers.

News organizations have accused Google, in lawsuits and in public statements, of making money off their hard work. That view largely overlooks the fact that newspapers receive torrents of Web traffic from people who find their work through Google -- but publishers haven't figured out a way to make those visitors as lucrative as print subscribers. Still, at least Google seemed to be trying to help the newspapers industry find a way out of its increasingly desperate financial state.

But in this economic environment, goodwill isn't enough reason for Google to keep a program going. Even the world's most successful Internet company has vowed to be more fiscally responsible, and it has started shutting down services that aren't successful. Looks like newspapers are on their own again.

-- Chris Gaither

Photo credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

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